Pioneers used rivers as a path to expansion. The rivers provided transportation, water, and food. Commerce followed. As a result, most inland cities were located near a river.
Rivers for many years were untamed. The Tennessee Valley Authority and the US Army Corps of Engineers brought order to the riverine environment. Since the time of initial river control investment, spending on river transportation has taken a back seat to highway and rail development. In 2014, highway and rail public spending came to $168 Billion dollars versus $10 Billion dollars spent on water transportation. New federal initiatives are seeking to increase funding to enhance river commerce.
Shipping on the inland rivers has become the domain of bulk cargo carriers. The bulk cargo on the river consists of: agricultural commodities such as grains and wood products; industrial products such as fertilizer, coal, ore, sand, and limestone; petroleum products, and chemicals. The existing ports along the Cumberland and Tennessee river systems almost exclusively support bulk commodity shipping.
Globalization changed the flow of commercial goods. The Panama Canal completed an expansion in 2016 that doubled the canal’s capacity. The East and West coast ports are not growing as rapidly as Gulf Coast ports. Organizations, such as the Inland River Ports and Terminals (IRPT) with their Container on Barge initiative, are looking to the future to manage the mass influx of consumer and commercial products arriving at Gulf Coast ports.
Rivers flow through sun-drenched rural lands with population masses nearby. Over 5 million people live within 20 miles of the Cumberland and Tennessee River system. Today, rivers, are not in the public eye except for seasonal recreation.
Trucks and rail are the primary cargo transportation choices. The InnoBarge barge project becomes a link in the chain for a river-based path from Gulf Coast ports through inland rivers to consumers and commercial customers. Rail no longer serves many rural towns.
The Last Miles to the Customers
The cargo journey may start on the ocean with 20-45 days elapsing. The truck or rail journey can add an additional one or more weeks before arriving at a mega distribution center. These storage facilities link to stores and industry and ensure a very short final delivery time to customers. A cost, energy and time effective inland river cargo journey can be part of the delivery path leading to the Last Mile.
Small River Ports – The Past and Present
The Gainesboro Tennessee Port operated for about 15 years during the oil rich days of the Upper Cumberland Region. The port shipped oil downstream. A million gallon oil storage tank is still on the property. The mooring dolphins used by he large bulk container barges are rusting and disused. Economic viability of the port has remained stagnant since the 1980s. The dependence on towboats pushing large multiple barges downstream is not a viable business model for many small ports. The Port of Celina just upstream from the Gainesboro port is closed.
The River Ports of the Future
The Port of Gainesboro is to be transformed into a model for future ports. No longer will the ports be dependent on one type of cargo product. The ports would be part of an interconnected port transportation system with upstream and downstream shipping. Solar energy would be a primary port energy source. An innovative new barge design is required. The ports would use existing trucking industry services such as drayage and intermodal transport connecting to storage logistic services and commercial businesses such as manufacturing sites. Automation using DC microgrid systems and robotic barge charging would be part of the port infrastructure. The loading and unloading of the barges would not require expensive gantries. The ports become a hub in the networked data system for barge to barge, barge to port and barge to trucking communications.
Cost-Effective, Renewable Energy, Environmentally Conscious, Existing Resources, Economic Development, Advanced Technologies…Innobarge–Motivating the Future